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Denmark asylum: Law passed to allow offshore asylum centres

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Denmark has passed legislation allowing it to relocate asylum seekers to third countries outside the European Union while their cases are reviewed.

The project, proposed by the Social Democrat-led government, would seek partner countries to run camps and fund agencies along migration routes.

But the European Commission said it had concerns about the law, and a leading NGO said it was irresponsible.

Denmark has repeatedly tightened its immigration policies in recent years.

This follows a peak of more than 21,000 asylum seekers arriving in Denmark in 2015.

MPs voted for the bill by 70 votes to 24.

“If you apply for asylum in Denmark, you know that you will be sent back to a country outside Europe, and therefore we hope that people will stop seeking asylum in Denmark,” said government spokesman Rasmus Stoklund, quoted by Reuters news agency.

The asylum cases would be reviewed in the third country and the applicant could potentially be given protection in that country.

 

But the European Commission was critical of the law.

“External processing of asylum claims raises fundamental questions about both the access to asylum procedures and effective access to protection,” said spokesman Adalbert Jahnz, quoted by Reuters news agency.

The Danish Refugee Council (DRC), a leading NGO, said in a statement that MPs had “effectively voted in the blind”, as the model they had backed did not yet exist.

“The idea to externalise the responsibility of processing asylum seekers’ claims is both irresponsible and lacking in solidarity. We have repeatedly called on the Danish members of parliament to reject this bill,” it said.

The council added that there was now a risk of countries hosting larger numbers of refugees would also opt out.

Denmark recently signed a migration deal with Rwanda leading to speculation that it intends to open a facility there.

Two weeks ago it became the first European country to revoke residence status for more than 200 Syrian refugees.

Danish authorities say parts of Syria are safe enough to return to but the move has sparked protests from activists and community groups.

Last year the UK considered building an asylum processing centre on Ascension Island, a remote territory in the Atlantic Ocean, but decided not to proceed.

Australia has also caused controversy in recent years with its use of camps for processing asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-57343572

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Germany’s new government pledges to tackle homelessness

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dw– It’s quiet during the day at the Caritas shelter in Gesundbrunnen, a diverse and working-class area in northern Berlin. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t lots to do. Martin Parlow, a part-time employee who organizes the shelter for the Catholic social welfare organization, has food to buy, bills to pay and staff and resources to organize.

Every night, around 18 men come in out of the cold, he says. They’re here for a shower, a warm meal and a safe place to sleep. Some are drunk when they arrive. Others are running from the law for small-time offenses. Most are off the grid in Germany, coming from elsewhere in the European Union.

They go out again the next morning to face a variety of difficult circumstances: low-paid jobs or begging, struggles with addiction, and mental and physical ailments that go untreated. The elements are their enemy. “Some people have been coming here for years, which is strange and sad because this is a really basic accommodation,” Parlow, who oversees a team of eight workers, tells DW.

The shelter is warm but austere. The main sleeping area has the look of a cheap backpacker hostel: metal bunk beds spread out across a linoleum floor, divided by simple privacy screens. Many of the “guests,” the term Parlow uses for those who sleep here, come back every night and leave some basic possessions — slippers, hats, drinks and body products — at their bedsides.

Parlow is in his third year at the shelter, which means most of his experience has been under pandemic conditions. Despite widespread fear at the beginning, he said the shelter refused to stop its work when COVID-19 came to Germany, though adjustments had to be made, such as reducing the number of people accommodated in compliance with social distancing restrictions. There used to be 25 people allowed in on a night, he said, and more if a desperate situation called for it.

Masks, tests and contact tracing are luxuries. The staff is now vaccinated, as are some of the homeless people who come in — but that was months ago with the Johnson & Johnson shot, which might be less effective now.

Long-term problem, winter-only solution

“Our mission is to save lives by providing a warm bed,” Parlow explains. “When this system was created 30 or 40 years ago, people were dying out on the streets.”

The advantage of being open only at night and during the winter, he says, is that people can come without formalities — no papers shown, no questions asked. But there are many downsides. Running the night shelter is expensive — around €45 ($50.80) per bed, per night — despite the limited services offered. Berlin’s homeless network is moving towards a 24/7 model, says Parlow, which would make it possible to provide more in terms of counseling, job help and longer-term housing prospects.

Even that is a stopgap. In Berlin and across Germany, a housing shortage and skyrocketing rents are making it harder to find and hold onto stable living conditions. Germany has a substantial low-wage sector, and major studies have shown that income inequality is rising, a greater share of salary has to go to rent and these pressures are creeping into the middle class.

“If you don’t have the security of your own four walls, everything else is so hard,” Parlow said. “How do you recover from being an alcoholic if you’re sharing a room with an alcoholic?”

Even huge organizations like Caritas are having trouble securing affordable housing stock to pass onto people in need, he added. A mix of for- and non-profit companies, working with the city, offer short-term space for tens of thousands of people, which they can end up living in for years.

Increased migration has caught policymakers off guard over the years, as has the rush of property investors. That, coupled with insufficient housing regulations and a lack of enforcement, has all contributed to the homeless problem.

Goals, plans, strategies — but few details

Germany’s next government, led by the Social Democrats (SPD) and set to be sworn in next week, wants to dramatically expand new housing construction with a focus on affordability and to end homelessness by 2030. The governing coalition agreement mentions “putting forward a national action plan” but lacks specifics on how to go about it.

“The goal to overcome homelessness in this decade can succeed only with the cooperation of all federal levels,” Ingrid Herden, an SPD spokesperson, told DW in a statement. “That’s why there will be a working group between the federal government and the states, which will take on the preparatory work of presenting a national action plan.”

Germany has four-year legislative periods, which means the next government could take until 2025 to come up with such a plan. That would leave five years to implement it.

“It’s basically true that the new government still needs to figure out what the national action plan entails and how the goals of the coalition agreement will come to life,” Krister-Benjamin Schramm, a spokesperson for the Green Party, told DW in a statement.

A Greens proposal from 2019 to combat homelessness remains on the table, Schramm said.

COVID-19: Germany immunizes its homeles

The SPD and Greens are also in Berlin’s state government, which in its own coalition agreement has put forward slightly more concrete steps at the city-state level. They include using more of its own and EU funds to combat homelessness, keeping a closer legal eye on evictions and lowering the bar to get people into housing.

Both the Berlin and federal governments talk about “housing first,” a concept developed in the United States and experimented with in Germany that aims to get people into their own homes with no strings attached. That flips the script on other programs, which require homeless people to first meet certain requirements, such as dealing with addiction, before they receive a place to live.

Fixing a problem you can’t see

Social welfare organizations have welcomed the new political will to tackle homelessness but are waiting to see the proof in the pudding. The Federal Association for Homeless Help (BAG W), for example, is calling for stronger constitutional housing guarantees, more eviction protection, better rent control and easier ways for those without a fixed address to get on the books so they can receive adequate health care.

Taking action — and knowing what it might cost — can’t happen without a firmer sense of the extent of the problem. A law mandating regular and comprehensive data collection on homelessness came into effect only in 2020, and the first statistics are not expected until next year.

Until then, advocates and policymakers can only go on best estimates. Nationwide, there were 678,000 people without a home in 2018, according to BAG W. That includes 441,000 refugees and 19,000 children. Nearly 12% had jobs, and almost the same share were pensioners. Housing debt was the leading cause of losing a home.

The estimate has more than tripled since 2018, driven largely by refugees who — despite their protected social status and often employable skills — can more easily fall through the cracks and struggle to find solid work.

The true number at risk, Parlow said, could be much higher. The estimates don’t catch, for example, young people who can’t leave their parents’ homes, or those stuck in bad relationships because they have no place else to go. In Berlin alone, Parlow thinks there could be 200,000 people in precarious housing situations.

Waiting on the state’s plans, shelters like the one Parlow oversees in Berlin will remain on the front lines in the battle against homelessness — largely outgunned by the social and economic forces they face.

“You can solve this issue — if you really want it as a society or a government,” Parlow said.

Edited by Rina Goldenberg.

While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

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Magdalena Andersson: Sweden’s first female PM returns after resignation

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bbc– Sweden’s first female prime minister has been reappointed to the top job after political turmoil forced her to resign within hours of taking the post last week.

MPs backed Social Democratic Party leader Magdalena Andersson by a narrow margin in a new vote on Monday.

She will attempt to lead a one-party government until an election in September next year.

She stood down as PM last Wednesday after her coalition collapsed.

Just hours earlier, Ms Andersson had been elected as Sweden’s first female prime minister by a single vote in parliament.

But the 54-year-old economist’s plan for forming a new coalition government with the Green Party was thrown into disarray when her budget proposal failed to pass.

  • Sweden’s first female PM resigns hours after appointment

Instead, parliament voted for a budget drawn up by a group of opposition parties, including the far-right Sweden Democrats.

The Green Party said it would not accept a budget drafted by the far-right and walked away from the government, leading to its demise.

By convention, the prime minister in Sweden is expected to resign if a coalition party leaves government.

In Monday’s vote in Sweden’s parliament, the Riksdag, 101 of its 349 members voted yes, 75 abstained and 173 voted no.

To be appointed prime minister under Sweden’s political system, a candidate only needs to avoid a majority voting against them.

At a news conference after the vote, Ms Andersson said she was ready to “take Sweden forward” with a programme focused on welfare, climate change and crime.

But without the support of other parties, Ms Andersson will struggle to pass legislation in parliament, where the centre-left Social Democrats hold 100 of 349 seats.

After a week of drama, Magdalena Andersson’s prime ministerial career is back on track, but Sweden’s political soap opera is far from over.

Ms Andersson still has to implement a budget put together by some of her right-wing rivals. Plus, she’s got to govern a fragile minority without the formal support of the Greens, who’ve been a crucial coalition partner since 2014.

All this has highlighted the complexities of having a deeply divided eight-party parliament. Some political commentators here are worried that Ms Andersson’s chaotic rise to power may have dented trust in the entire political system.

Once formed, Ms Andersson’s new government will remain in place until general elections, which are set to take place in September next year. Until then, she’s got just over nine months to prove herself to the public.

A former junior swimming champion from the university city of Uppsala, Ms Andersson began her political career in 1996 as political adviser to then-Prime Minister Goran Persson.

She has spent the past seven years as finance minister before becoming leader of the Social Democrats at the start of November.

She replaced Stefan Lofven, who resigned as prime minister after seven years in power.

Until Ms Andersson took over, Mr Lofven had remained prime minister of a caretaker government after being ousted in an unprecedented vote of no confidence in June.

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Covid: Europe region faces 700,000 more deaths by March – WHO

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bbc– A further 700,000 people could die of Covid by March in Europe and parts of Asia, the World Health Organization has warned.

The death toll already exceeds 1.5 million in the 53 countries of what the WHO terms as its Europe region.

The WHO warned of “high or extreme stress” in intensive care units in 49 of the nations by March 2022.

Europe is facing a surge in cases, prompting Austria to return to lockdown and others to consider fresh measures.

A number of countries – including France, Germany and Greece – could also soon make booster jabs a requirement for their citizens to be considered fully vaccinated.

But several countries have seen fierce protests against new measures. The Netherlands saw several nights of rioting over a partial lockdown.

In its assessment, the WHO warned Covid was the top cause of death in its Europe region.

“Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year, based on current trends,” the WHO said on Tuesday.

Confirmed Covid-related deaths recently doubled to almost 4,200 a day, it added.

In Russia alone, the daily death toll has been recently topping 1,200.

A high number of unvaccinated people and the prevalence of the Delta variant in some countries were key factors behind high transmission rates in the Europe region, the WHO said.

The WHO Europe director, Dr Hans Kluge, urged those who were still unvaccinated to get the jab.

“All of us have the opportunity and responsibility to help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life, and limit further disruption to society and businesses over this winter season,” he said.

As well as European nations, the WHO also considers Israel and ex-Soviet states like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as making up the region.

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